Tuesday November 13, 2018
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The Wrath Of Seas And Climate Change

An El Niño warming pattern appears to be developing in the Pacific. That tends to squash hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

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Waves from Hurricane Florence pound the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle, N.C. VOA
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The seas are angry this month.

While the remnants of Hurricane Florence soak the Carolinas and Typhoon Mangkhut pounds the Philippines, three more tropical cyclones are spinning in the Western Hemisphere, and one is petering out over Southeast Asia.

Experts say some of this extreme tropical weather is consistent with climate change. But some isn’t. And some is unclear.

It’s unusual to have so many storms happening at once. But not unheard of.

“While it is very busy, this has happened a number of times in the past,” said meteorologist Joel Cline at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mid-September is the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. If there are going to be storms in both hemispheres, Cline said, now is the most likely time.

Climate Change
Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C.. VOA

Stronger storms, and a grain of salt

Scientists are not necessarily expecting more hurricanes with climate change, however.

“A lot of studies actually (show) fewer storms overall,” said NOAA climate scientist Tom Knutson.

“But one thing they also tend to simulate is slightly stronger storms” and a larger proportion of Category 4 or 5 hurricanes, Knutson said. Florence made landfall as a Category 1 storm but started the week as a Category 4.

Knutson and other experts caution that any conclusions linking climate and hurricanes need to be taken with a grain of salt.

“Our period of record is too short to be very confident in these sorts of things,” said University of Miami atmospheric scientist Brian McNoldy.

While reliable temperature records go back more than a century in much of the world, comprehensive data on hurricanes only starts with satellites in the 1980s.

Climate Change
Submerged tombs are seen at a flooded village after heavy rainfall caused by tropical storm Son Tinh in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam. VOA

Extreme rainfall

Scientists are fairly sure that climate change is making extreme rainfall more common. Global warming has raised ocean temperatures, leading to more water evaporating into the atmosphere, and warmer air holds more water.

Florence is expected to dump up to 101 centimeters (40 inches) of rain in some spots, leading to what the National Weather Service calls life-threatening flooding.

One group of researchers has estimated that half of the rain falling in the hurricane’s wettest areas is because of human-caused climate change.

Knutson agrees in principle but can’t vouch for the magnitude.

“We do not yet claim that we have detected this increase in hurricane rainfall rate,” he said.

Climate Change
Homes are surrounded by water from the flooded Brazos River in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, in Freeport, Texas. VOA

He points to earlier studies that blamed climate change for 15 to 20 percent of the devastating rainfall Hurricane Harvey poured on Texas last year.

However, these studies looked at all kinds of rainfall, not just hurricanes, Knutson notes.

“We think that hurricanes are probably behaving like the other types of processes, but we have the best data for extreme precipitation in general,” he explained.

The latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has “medium confidence” in the link between climate change and rainfall extremes.

As Florence trudges across the Carolinas, one recent study suggests that hurricanes are moving slower, giving them more time to do their damage.

But that may be natural variation more than climate change.

“I think we’re still early in the game on that one,” Knutson said.

Climate Change
Women walk through a coastal ghost forest believed to be caused by sea level rise on Assateague Island in Virginia. VOA

Rising sea levels

The area where scientists are most confident is sea level rise. Climate change is responsible for three-quarters of the increase in ocean levels, according to the IPCC report.

“Once you have human-caused sea level rise, then all other things being equal, whatever storms you have will create that much higher storm surge,” Knutson said.

That means more erosion and more damage farther on shore.

Whether this hurricane season as a whole will be one for the record books remains to be seen. While the seas are angry at the moment, that may soon change.

Also Read: Tropical Storm Florence: What To Expect?

An El Niño warming pattern appears to be developing in the Pacific. That tends to squash hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

“It appears that perhaps next week will be much more quiet in both basins,” said NOAA’s Joel Cline. “So it does ebb and flow.”

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Old Diesel Cars Banned From Summer 2019 In Greater Paris

Fifteen French metropolitan areas including Lyon, Nice, Aix-Marseille and Toulouse last month agreed to install or reinforce low-emission zones by 2020.

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Exhaust fumes escape from the exhaust of a diesel engine car in Paris. VOA

The Greater Paris region will become a low-emission zone from next summer, which will limit the circulation of old diesel cars, the regional authority decided on Monday.

The Metropole du Grand Paris council said on its Twitter feed it had voted to ban diesel cars registered before Dec. 31, 2000 from the area within the A86 second ring-road, which includes Paris and 79 municipalities around it, a region with 5.61 million inhabitants.

The ban will use France’s new “Crit’Air” vignette system, which identifies cars’ age and pollution level with color-coded stickers. Cars with the Crit’Air 5 sticker (1997 to 2000-registered diesels) as well as cars without a sticker will be banned.

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People cool themselves at the Trocadero Fountain in front of The Eiffel Tower in Paris on July 27, 2018, as a heatwave continues across northern Europe. VOA

The council plans to gradually tighten regulations in order to allow only electric or hydrogen-fueled cars on Greater Paris roads by 2030. In central Paris, pre-2000 diesels have been banned since July 2017.

Also Read: Paris Adopts Climate Action Plan, Aims At Achieving a ‘Zero Carbon’ Future

Fifteen French metropolitan areas including Lyon, Nice, Aix-Marseille and Toulouse last month agreed to install or reinforce low-emission zones by 2020. The French government hopes this will prevent European Union sanctions over non-respect of European air quality standards. (VOA)